Saturday, January 11, 2020

Iraq Control Map & Timeline - January 2020

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Iraq Control Map 2020, updated to January 10. Shows areas of Iraq under ISIS control (Islamic State/ISIL/Daesh), and under the control of the Baghdad government, the Kurdistan Peshmerga, and the Yezidi Sinjar Alliance (YBS and YJE). Colorblind accessible.
Basemap by Koen Adams of, with territorial control by Evan Centanni and Djordje Djukic.
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Timeline by Djordje Djukic, with additional reporting by Evan Centanni

Iraq Map: Who Controls What in 2020

In the nearly two years since our previous Iraq control map update, there have been few major changes to the situation on the ground. But the so-called "Islamic State" (IS; formerly ISIS/ISIL) isn't gone, and recent reports say the group has begun regaining power in the country's north. Tensions have also escalated recently between the US and Iran - both countries are heavily involved in Iraq, and have long competed for influence there. Meanwhile, the self-governed Kurdistan region remains in control of the far north, despite having lost some its claimed territory to the Iraqi central government in the aftermath of its controversial 2017 independence vote.

See Also: Syrian Civil War Control Map - November 2019

Flag of Iraq Country Name:  
• Iraq (English, Kurdish)
• al-‘Irāq (Arabic)
Official Name:  
• Republic of Iraq (English)
• Jumhūriyyat al-‘Irāq (Arabic)
Komara Iraqê (Kurdish)
Capital: Baghdad

Timeline of Changes in Territorial Control

The following is an outline of territorial control news and other major events since PolGeoNow's previous Iraq control map update of February 22, 2018, with emphasis on the events of the past six months. The abbreviation "IS" refers to the organization calling itself the "Islamic State", formerly known as ISIS or ISIL. The Peshmerga are the military forces of self-governed Iraqi Kurdistan.

April 2, 2018
Maj. Gen. Ali Khalifa, a commander in the pro-Iranian Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF), was killed during operations near Tuz Khurmatu and Kirkuk, where an estimated 500 to 1,000 members of the insurgent group known as the “White Flags” were operating.

The nature of the White Flags group is a bit mysterious - it's variously said to be made up of hardline Kurdish nationalists, former members of the so-called "Islamic State" (ISIS/ISIL), a rebranding of another insurgent group, or some combination thereof.

October 4, 2018
The Iraqi military, along with French and United States coalition forces, launched an operation against IS fighters still operating in the desert near Qaim and the border with Syria.

April 11-14, 2019
Iraqi security forces launched an operation aimed at clearing IS remnants in the Hamrin Mountains. IS’s control of the area, located in the region between Baghad and Kirkuk, enabled it to continue launching attacks against nearby towns. By April 14, 12 IS fighters had been killed in the operation. Before the collapse of its so-called caliphate in 2017, IS had constructed a vast tunnel network throughout the Hamrin range, which passes through Salah Al-Din, Kirkuk, and Diyala provinces.

July 7-11, 2019
The Iraqi military launched an operation aimed at clearing the desert around the junction of Salah Al-Din, Ninewa (Nineveh), and Anbar provinces of IS "sleeper cells". The first phase of the operation was announced as concluded four days later.

August 10, 2019
A US Marine was killed in combat while advising Iraqi security forces fighting against IS forces in Ninewa province.

September 10, 2019
The US Air Force conducted a massive bombing of Qanus Island, in the Tigris River south of Mosul, which it said was being used as an IS staging area. Some 25 IS fighters were killed in the strikes on the island, which was described as a “major transit hub” for fighters headed in and out of Syria.

September 20, 2019
A bombing on a minibus near Karbala left 12 civilians dead. It was the biggest attack on civilians since the official defeat of IS in Iraq at the end of 2017. IS would claim responsibility for the attack the next day.

October 1, 2019
Protests broke out in Baghdad over high unemployment, poor basic services, and state corruption, then spread to the south of the country. The protesters demanded the resignation of the Iraqi prime minister and also protested against Iranian influence in the country.

November 29-December 1, 2019
In the bloodiest day of protests, 44 people were killed when Iraqi security forces opened fire on the protesters in Nasiriyah and Najaf. The same day, the Iraqi Prime Minister, Adil Abdul-Mahdi,
submitted his resignation, which was then approved by the parliament on December 1. His government would continue on in a caretaker capacity until a replacement could be approved. By this point, a total of more than 400 people had been killed in the protests.

December 23, 2019
It was reported that IS forces had reorganized themselves after 12 months in the Hamrin Mountains. IS fighters were also said to be patrolling the no-man’s land between Iraqi government and Kurdish Peshmerga positions in the north unchallenged. In particular, IS fighters were said to be permanently situated in the delta where the Great Zab River meets the Tigris west of Gwer (Al Kuwayr). However, it was thought that they had changed strategies from previous years and were not seeking to capture more territory.

December 27, 2019
A US civilian contractor was killed in a rocket attack on a military base near Kirkuk. Several soldiers were also lightly wounded. It was the biggest in a series of rocket attacks against US interests in Iraq since late October, which also killed one Iraqi soldier.

December 30, 2019
In retaliation for the killing of the US contractor, the US conducted airstrikes against bases of the Iran-backed Iraqi militia known as Kata'ib Hezbollah, a PMF brigade blamed for the rocket attack. The strikes left 25 militiamen dead and 51 wounded.

December 31, 2019 - January 1, 2020
In response to the airstrikes, Iraqi protesters and PMF militiamen stormed the massive US embassy complex in Baghdad, burning part of it. The protesters ended their sit-in outside the embassy the following day.

The US government blamed the incident on Iran, which is widely thought to support and perhaps give orders to the PMF militias (including Kata'ib Hezbollah), despite a law placing them officially under the Iraqi government's command. Iran's government denied any involvement in the storming of the embassy.

January 3-4, 2020
A US drone strike on a convoy near Baghdad International Airport killed Iranian major general Qasem Soleimani, commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ Quds Force - a unit of the Iranian military specializing in unconventional warfare outside Iran. The attack also killed nine other people, including Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, commander of the Kata'ib Hezbollah militia.

The US justified the attack by saying it was conducted in self-defense against imminent attacks being prepared by General Soleimani on US personnel, and to deter any future Iranian attacks. However, many accused US president Donald Trump of violating both US and international law by assassinating a foreign government official. Iraq’s prime minister said that, by conducting the attack without the consent of his government, the US had violated the agreement that allows US troops to remain in Iraq. Others asserted that the US Congress should have been notified first.

Iran promised vengeance for the killing of Soleimani, while president Trump threatened to strike 52 Iranian targets in case of retaliation for the drone strike, including cultural sites. Various commentators noted that attacks on cultural sites would be considered war crimes under both US and international law. When asked by the press, US Defense Secretary Mark Esper acknowledged that cultural sites were out-of-bounds.

On January 4, a PMF-organized procession carried the bodies of Soleimani, Muhandis, and others killed in the attack through Baghdad’s Green Zone, after which they were sent to the Shi’ite holy cities of Karbala and Najaf in southern Iraq. Soleimani’s body was also to be transferred to the Shi’ite holy city of Mashhad in Iran, then to Iranian capital city Tehran and finally to his hometown of Kerman, where he would be buried.

January 4, 2020
An airstrike targeting a PMF convoy near Taji, just north of Baghdad, reportedly left six people dead. The US denied conducting the strike, while the PMF said the target had been a medical convoy.

January 5, 2020
Iraq's parliament passed a resolution calling for the Iraqi government to end the presence of foreign troops in the country. Subsequently, Iraqi officials began working on the implementation of the resolution. In response, President Trump stated that US forces were not going to leave until Iraq pays the US back for the construction of Al Asad Airbase in Anbar province. Further, Trump said that if US forces were forced to leave, the US would place sanctions on Iraq.

Meanwhile, missiles were fired at the US embassy in Baghdad’s Green Zone, as well as at an airbase housing US Air Force trainers, apparently by PMF militias. The second attack left three Iraqi soldiers injured.

January 8, 2020
Before dawn on January 8, Iran launched more than a dozen ballistic missiles at two military bases hosting US forces in Iraq - announcing that it was revenge for the killing of General Soleimani. The missiles were launched from within Iran, targeting the Al Asad Airbase in Anbar province and a base near Erbil in the Kurdistan region.

President Trump announced that no Americans or Iraqis had been hurt in the missile attacks on US forces, and Iran's government stated that it had "concluded" its "proportionate measures" of retaliation and did not plan further strikes. It was believed that Iran deliberately missed US forces during the strikes to avoid causing any casualties and prevent the crisis from escalating out of control, while still showing its resolve to retaliate for the killing of General Soleimani.

Hours after the attacks on the bases in Iraq, a civilian airliner from Ukraine crashed soon after taking off from the Tehran airport in Iran, killing all 176 people on board. At first the incident was reported as a likely mechanical failure, but in the following days Iran would admit that its military had accidentally shot the plane down. The weapon that downed it was a surface-to-air missile, different from the surface-to-surface missiles used to target US troops in Iraq earlier in the morning. While the crew of the plane was Ukrainian, the passengers were mostly Iranians and Canadians, with the remainder from Sweden, Afghanistan, Germany, and Ukraine.

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Graphic of the Iraqi flag is in the public domain (source).